MANCHESTER, N.H. – Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig gave her State of the City address just a few months ago, in what feels like a different world. On Thursday, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce offered her an opportunity to give another update on Manchester’s situation in the era of COVID-19.
Craig joined Manchester Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike Skelton as part of the latest edition in the chamber’s Community Conversations series.
Fielding a series of questions from Skelton and members of the virtual audience, Craig praised city employees for their efforts reacting to the city’s needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and sharing guidance to Manchester residents she has obtained from experts fighting the disease.
In particular, Craig praised the city’s hospitals as well as the city’s schools, which she said went to remote learning “in a blink of an eye.”
According to Craig, New Hampshire as a state is “flattening the curve,” but Manchester is still seeing an upward swing of cases, leading her to urge Manchester residents to continue act responsibly and do things like wear masks, something Skelton echoed.
“I’ve seen more and more businesses asking customers to wear masks and guidance I’ve been seeing is encouraging businesses to have their employees wear masks. I think we can all do a lot if we adhere to those requests as customers, if we follow the guidelines that these businesses’ have their employees do,” said Skelton. “It’s a relatively simple guideline to ask. We kind of feel silly sometimes, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a minor inconvenience if it has any type of impact on keeping us healthier or safer.”
In terms of Manchester’s budget, Craig said that due to the diligence of the city’s department heads as well as a hiring freeze, the city is currently projecting a surplus over $600,000 by the end of the year, with just over $1.2 million in CARES Act funding allocated by the state for reimbursements related to COVID-19. While CARES Act funding cannot help with revenue shortfalls at the municipal level, she said that New Hampshire’s congressional delegation is requesting more money to help cities like Manchester.
Craig added that it has been difficult balancing the needs of public safety and the local economy, but mentioned the slow re-emergence of downtown restaurants and other businesses, adding that some currently under-utilized spaces might be transformed into what other cities are referring to “parklets.”
However, she said that the transformation of Elm Street into a parklet, comparable to the annual Taco Tour, would be unlikely until social distancing requirements are no longer needed and large crowds can congregate again safely.
“There’s been talk about closing down Elm Street for a day or a weekend at some point when it’s safe to do. We know that individuals love the Taco Tour,” she said. “Again, it’s something we’re having conversations on and given the situation we’re in and given that the pandemic is still here and that the numbers have not flattened in Manchester, we’re not at a point where we can embrace having a large gathering of individuals.”
Craig also touched upon the issue of homelessness in the city, stating that the city’s ultimate goal is to provide more supportive housing to address the issue and that the homeless camps originally devised to prevent overcrowding at local shelters is now being slowly phased out as room is becoming available at Familes in Transition/New Horizons as well as other temporary shelters and local hotel rooms.
She also responded to a question of the return of homeless people to Elm Street, reminding the audience that sidewalks are public property and homeless residents have a right to be there unless they are obstructing foot traffic.
Skelton added that giving money directly to homeless panhandlers can actually harm them and it is better to give to local charities that help them.